Bar News - April 15, 2015
NH Bar Foundation News: Bellwether First Credit Union to Join IOLTA Leadership Circle
By: Dan Wise
A variety of factors led Bellwether Community Credit Union, headquartered in Manchester, to be the first credit union to join the Leadership Circle of the NH Bar Foundation’s IOLTA Program.
Michael L’Ecuyer, CEO of Bellwether Community Credit Union, said supporting IOLTA at the Leadership Circle level makes sense for his organization.
Michael L’Ecuyer, president and CEO of Bellwether Community Credit Union, said his institution is interested in supporting the well-being of its community, and the IOLTA program strives to provide equal access to justice.
“This is a new opportunity for New Hampshire credit unions and one that we were excited to establish. We look forward to a long-standing partnership with the NH Bar Foundation to benefit local organizations through the IOLTA Grants Program,” said L’Ecuyer.
Financial institutions in the Leadership Circle pay interest rates of 2 percent or higher on deposits in pooled Interest on Lawyers Trust Accounts, and typically waive service fees for these accounts. The pooled accounts are used for escrow deposits that are small or are held for very short periods, where creating an individual trust account would be inefficient, and little or no interest would be netted for the client. The interest earned from these accounts are directed to charitable purposes and administered by the NH Bar Foundation.
Last year, IOLTA granted $960,000 to organizations providing access to civil legal services for disadvantaged citizens in New Hampshire, including NH Legal Assistance, the NH Bar’s Pro Bono Referral Program and Reduced-Fee Referral Program, the Disability Rights Center-NH, and the Legal Advice & Referral Center. Since 1983, more than $30 million has been raised through IOLTA for civil legal aid and civic education programs.
IOLTA Leadership Institutions
Leadership Circle: Institutions at the Leadership Level offer 2 percent or more on IOLTA accounts.
Bank of New Hampshire
Bellwether Community Credit Union
Community Guaranty Savings Bank
Mascoma Savings Bank
Members First Credit Union
Meredith Village Savings Bank
Merrimack County Savings Bank
Passumpsic Savings Bank
Sugar River Bank
Partner Level: Partner institutions offer 1 percent or more on IOLTA accounts.
Institution for Savings
Piscataqua Savings Bank
TD Bank Massachusetts
Washington Savings Bank
L’Ecuyer said Bellwether, which also has offices in Nashua and Bedford, was eager to join the IOLTA program following passage of a federal law in December that enabled participation in IOLTA by credit unions. (Deposit insurance laws were revised to ensure that deposits by non-members of credit unions, such as lawyers’ clients, would be covered.)
“We are proud to have our credit union associated with the good work of the Bar Foundation,” said L’Ecuyer. He added that the Bar Foundation’s role in making IOLTA grants ensures that the revenue is properly directed.
Participating in IOLTA is an easy way to donate. “There is no added effort on the part of the credit union, and we are assured that the money is being efficiently allocated. We are a small community institution, and we like to partner with an organization that has the expertise and resources to focus on a particular charitable mission.”
The credit union also supports the community service activities of its employees, L’Ecuyer said. Darlene Schmidt-Brandt, assistant vice president at Bellwether Community Credit Union, has been active on the boards of New Hampshire civil legal services organizations for many years, and recently joined the NH Bar Foundation Board of Directors. Schmidt-Brandt, for several years, has served on the IOLTA revenue committee and recently participated in a training program for credit unions on how to participate in IOLTA.
“Our philosophy in giving back is to support our employees. Part of the way we give back to communities is to give our employees the time to be involved.”
L’Ecuyer said he was shocked by recent research on how poor people in the Granite State lack access to legal help for civil legal problems that put them at risk for homelessness, domestic violence, and other social problems. “I was amazed about the justice gap and to realize that often, people don’t know they have access to legal remedy or that there is a legal remedy to the problem.”
As the first credit union to join the IOLTA program at the Leadership level, Bellwether is living up to its name. Members First, another credit union based in Manchester, also joins the Leadership Circle starting this month. Several other NH credit unions have also indicated they are interested in participating in the IOLTA program.